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Two young creators serve as inspiration for other young designers

(Courtesy of Winconcept Consulting Co. Ltd.)

By Cherry Cheung & Kayu Wong

Andy Lam and Chris Luk, the founders of Plastrons Limited, created a cartoon character called Bon Bonn in late 2001.

Within 2 years, Bon Bonn has traveled around the world to share joy and care with people from different cultures through diverse multi-media channels like the Internet and short message service, or SMS.

The success of Bon Bonn is attributed to the creativity and global vision of its creators.

From the creation of the images of Bon Bonn to the marketing strategies of the cartoon character, Andy and Chris have tried their best to put Bon Bonn in the global market.

The concept of Bon Bonn first came to its founders when Andy and Chris were traveling in China. They saw pirated cartoon characters occupying the character market there. These characters were from Japan, Korea and other Western countries.

The situation there disappointed them. They wondered why there were no Hong Kong cartoon characters in this huge market. Soon afterwards, they conducted a 3-month research program on cartoon character markets around the world.

After evaluating examples of successes and failures, Andy and Chris reached the conclusion that they should not follow the traditional path. They decided that they should first try to build up their cartoon character’s reputation.

“We found that most companies needed an average of 5 years to build up a not-so-famous character, and 10 years for a famous character. Yet, some still failed after all this time,” Chris said.

“We wanted to spend our resources and time in the most effective way,” Chris added.

In late 2001, Andy and Chris set up Planstrons Limited.

They cooperated with a couple of mobile service providers, and Bon Bonn started appearing on mobile phones. Bon Bonn’s image was developed for wallpapers, games, pictures and multimedia messages in mobile phones.

Chris said, “Mobile networks are an independent platform.

“We also tried to substitute words for visual elements in order to remove the burden of translation,” added Chris.

“We wanted Bon Bonn to be liked by people from different countries.

Therefore, Bon Bonn was created as a ‘rare white monkey’, which is perceived as a spiritual symbol in Chinese culture.

“On the other hand, the background images are mostly based on Western cultures — for example, the architecture and landscapes.

As a result, people from different cultures can identify with the character, but yet still be able to find something stimulating in it,” said Chris.

More importantly, the lifestyles and beliefs of Bon Bonn are welcomed universally. Bon Bonn has a mission of sharing joy and care. It lives in a peaceful and quiet place called Delightful Heights. Bon Bonn is never lonely because he has the company of his best friend, a turtle named Dum Dumm.

“Unlike traditional cartoon characters, Bon Bonn is not only a visual image. The whole concept of Bon Bonn stresses its resemblance to humans. Like Bon Bonn, we all desire peace, kindness and innocence.

So Bon Bonn is just like a human being,” said Chris.

“Thanks to the design team, Bon Bonn could be worked out from just a concept to images and it perfectly fits our original idea of the integration of both Eastern and Western cultural elements,” Chris said.

Bon Bonn was able to merge both Eastern and Western elements successfully because of its creators. Bon Bonn’s illustrator lived in France for 10 years. The creative director has lived in Taiwan and the United States. Their living experiences abroad have broadened their horizons and insights of foreign culture.

However, there are a lot of copycats in the character market. Chris and Andy said that, since many designers in Hong Kong are educated locally, they lack continuing advancement of design techniques. They are also not motivated to improve their quality of thinking and creativity.

“Some local designers do not care about the originality of their designs. Some of them just copy their designs from magazines or current fashions.

“At the beginning, they may make profit from their copied work because some consumers cannot distinguish the copycats from the authentic ones. Yet, it is not a long-term strategy. When sales begin to drop, they will start to copy the ideas from other trends. This becomes a vicious cycle,” said Andy.

This vision and comprehensive planning reflects the founders’ ambition to reach a global market.

They adopted various marketing strategies to attract different consumers, which turned out to be effective.

“Our first step was to arouse teenagers’ interest in Bon Bonn. Mobile networks were successful because they are popular among youths. SMS pictures involve messages related to their daily lives,” said Chris.

To realize their plan, the company approached Sing Tao daily and Longman Hong Kong Education for cooperation.

Longman adopted the character in its integrated summer holiday workbooks for pre-school children. Bon Bonn also appears in every Sing Tao Kids Weekly. There are comics, games quizzes and competitions.

A Bon Bonn short film was also made to help raise funds for the Families of Spinal Muscular Atrophy. The organization serves children who suffer from this disease.

During the SARS period, Bon Bonn appeared in short films to thank health service officers.

“We understand the importance of involving Bon Bonn in the community. This builds up the goodwill of our character,” said Chris.

Ms. Kan, director of Win Concept Co., the public relations firm hired by Plastron, said, “Not many entrepreneurs in the industry are willing to employ public relations services. Yet, Chris and Andy did. The services are actually of great help.”

According to Ms. Kan, public relations gives ideas and products nicer packaging. It enhances people’s curiosity to purchase products.

“The government only provides grants to industries which possess collateral like factories or other equipment. This is not an effective way of assisting creative industries, because entrepreneurs in the industries usually own very little fixed assets,” she said.

In respect of the government’s role in promoting creative industries, Chris and Andy expressed dissatisfaction.

“Creative industries do not require a large amount of capital to start their business. Ideas are important. A brand name makes money. All we need is creative minds. Creative businesses can generate huge profits from little capital,” said Chris.

Ms. Kan said, “The government is now trying to promote the creative industries; however, it does not really understand the needs of the industries.

“The government only started to promote creative industries recently, which is very late. Disney established its fame and reputation almost a century ago. Hong Kong is lagging behind other countries like South Korea.

“Yet, starting late is better than having nothing done. What the government needs to do is to adjust its mode of thinking,” she added.

Chris and Andy won the Innovative Entrepreneur of the year 2003 by the Junior Chamber International, an international organization that aims at helping the development of young creative talents. The award gave them support and recognition.

Now, people from Italy, the United States and most countries in Asia are enjoying the presence and services of Bon Bonn. It is expected that Bon Bonn will reach the other parts of Europe and the rest of the world by the end of the year.

“Everything is under progress now. This will be our goal for the coming year,” said Chris.